Putting On The Foil with @jsaquella: After long defending, my mind has changed on Paul Holmgren

Editors’ Note: Noted Philadelphia Flyers fan John Saquella is going beyond 140 characters. The man most of you probably know from social media as @jsaquella will bring you his wide-ranging opinion and commentary on the Orange and Black in his column Putting On The Foil.

By John Saquella (@jsaquella)

Paul Holmgren

I have long defended Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, mainly because I feel that his troubles and larger mistakes have come from meddling from above.

It might be time I changed that stance.

To review, Holmgren assumed the mantle of GM during the darkest season in Flyers history, and rebuilt them into a Stanley Cup contender in a very short time period. Granted he had some very solid building blocks and assets to move, as well as a load of cap room, but he did well to augment the building blocks and add pieces needed. In the first full season under Holmgren’s stewardship, the Flyers reached the Eastern Conference Final. Two years later, they made it to the Stanley Cup Final before bowing out to the champion Chicago Blackhawks.

Holmgren has proven he can build a bad team into a contender. Unfortunately, his ability to maintain a contender seems to be lacking. After the 2010 Finals, Holmgren started to systematically disassemble the team he built. Now, just three years after reaching the Final, the Flyers have just 4 active players from that team-Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen & Braydon Coburn. A fifth-Chris Pronger-lingers on LTIR, even though his career as an active NHL player is over.

Since that run to the Final, the Flyers have progressive finished worse than the season before. In 2011 & 2012, they got destroyed in the second round of the playoffs, being swept by Boston and losing in 5 games(losing the last 4 straight) to New Jersey. They missed the playoffs in the shortened 2013 season and this year got off to the worst start in franchise history, firing head coach Peter Laviolette in the process.

The franchise is definitely not trending in the right direction. The fingerprints of Ed Snider are on the scene, but there’s definitely mistakes by Holmgren that have little to do with Snider’s involvement. Snider might dictate publicly that the Flyers are going to “solve” the goaltending issue once and for all & basically force Holmgren to bid against himself in the free agent market. But Snider didn’t order Holmgren to trade James van Riemsdyk for a slow footed defenseman. Snider wasn’t demanding the Flyers sign a 35 year old defenseman to an over 35 contract.

The Flyers are a talented team of ill-fitting parts that lack any real identity. They lack a true number one defenseman and have a group of large, slow defensemen that lack puck skills and offensive instincts. The defensemen that are offensively inclined are older players that are limited by age or two way ability. Up front they have too many players that have a “pass first” mentality or rely on grinding out plays to score dirty, garbage goals. These are items that fall directly on Holmgren’s door step.

The worrisome thing to me is that they seem to be repeating mistakes. Hasty, long term extensions to player after one good year and long terms deals with no move clauses to veterans that outperformed their normal levels in a contract year. A seeming “OHHH!! Shiny!! Approach to free agency. Using higher draft picks to add grit and “energy” players, and ignoring more highly skilled and highly rated players.

As construed right now, the Flyers are a team that has skill, but lacks hockey sense and discipline. They have a crisis of confidence and resolve. They have serious issues in the transition game, both offensively and defensively, and have some very glaring needs that won’t be cheap or easy to fill.

I’m not sure that Holmgren is the guy that can restore an identity and fix the myriad issues facing this team. I’m not even sure if he should be the guy given an opportunity to try.